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The Warrior Ideal Theme in Homer’s the Iliad

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When you think of the definition of an ancient hero, you might conjure up a vision of courageous men, ruthless leaders, and superhuman strength, but what actually is the true character of an ancient Hero? Homer’s epic poems provide insight into the Mycenaean (ancient Greek) culture that is hard to imagine without his accounts. Homer touches on themes like life, death, love and many others. In The Essential Homer a translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey by Stanley Lombardo, the theme of the warrior ideal is brought into question and explored very thoroughly. Homer’s portrayal of heroes in the Iliad changes throughout the epic in a multitude of ways shown through Achilles, Hector and other heroes. Homer has his heroes exemplify the major theme of the warrior ideal but then goes a step further and almost challenges the Mycenaean masculine gender identity through many different characters. I challenge the way people think of the Greek heroes as ruthless killers and self-centered, egotistical maniacs, and point out the heroes’ many acts of compassion, love and emotion.

Achilles is a very interesting figure in this epic poem. He exemplifies a hero in every aspect of life and could be considered the best Greek hero of all time. He is a vicious fighter in battle and a great leader, leading a life that seems to lack remorse when he is in battle, so it may seem. He shows this honorable personality towards the end of the epic, when he is dragging Hector back to the ships after he has killed him. He also exemplifies the connotative hero when he promises to bring back 12 Trojans to, “sacrifice” for Patroclus’ funeral ceremony. This is generally the Achilles that the war stories and all of the movies exemplify but there is a much different, less hard and masculine, side of this grand hero.

Part of the warrior ideal theme is loyalty which can tie hand in hand with love. Achilles exemplifies this in various ways, first being the reaction he has when Briseis is taken by Agamemnon. Homer writes, “Then, Achilles, in tears, Withdrew from his friends and sat down far away On the foaming white seashore, staring out At the endless sea.” (Lombardo 11) In this scene, in the beginning of the epic, Achilles seems to have given up all hope of being happy, and he cries over the loss of his “prize” to Agamemnon. This is not the hero that the Mycenaean people make Achilles out to be, and certainly not something I would associate with a grand warrior. Homer’s writing here allows us to challenge the view of masculinity in heroic cultures. This is one example that shows that loyalty, in terms of love, come out in not just terms of being true to someone, but that it is exemplified through the emotional side of Achilles. The Mycenaean culture was seen as a warrior culture and their society was one of heroes, but they don’t brag about or prop up that their heroes were actually very emotional and human. This is just one of the many examples that Homer provides us in explaining how the Myceneans’ exemplified their heroes, even if they were showing extreme signs of vulnerability.

Continuing through the epic, Hector himself also exemplifies a type of hero that is very different from unforgiving warrior he exemplifies in the epic when he is actually in the fight. When Hector goes back to see his family before going out to lead the Trojans against the Greeks, he has a very interesting conversation with his wife and son. Hector takes the thought of honor, from the warrior ideal theme, a step further when he explains to Andromache why exactly he has to go and fight. He states that he is, “Defending [his] own father’s honor and [his] own.” (Lombardo 79) This a new and interesting interpretation and implementation of his Honor. This touches on the importance of the Mycenaean’s names and what these meant exactly to them. The name meant more than just a bunch of letters, but that they needed to keep their lineage going because the name and the language is power. These names are also a part of the honor that these heroes carry as well as part of the law of hospitality. This is shown through the recognition of names when explaining their lineage.

Though there are many different types of heroes in the epic, there is one scene that almost every hero exemplifies due to this Greek law of hospitality that allows them to have honor and old ties of loyalty for being lawful heroes. This is because the Greeks believed in a theory of hospitality. Diomedes of the Greeks and Glaucus of Troy meet in the heat of battle, spears aimed at each other but Diomedes asks of Glaucus’ lineage and once he tells him, the realize that their fathers had old ties of hospitality. To which Homer writes, “With this said, they vaulted from their chariots, Clasped hands, and pledged their friendship.” (Lombardo 73) This shows how important that the history between families means to these men. It also proves

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